Miami Defense Preview

A scorching October Saturday in Miami, with Florida State down 17-0 in the waning seconds of the second quarter. Third and goal and Nole quarterback Chris Wienke drops back looking for a tight end or fullback over the middle for an easy six points and a momentum boost. BOOM!

As if he were shot out of a cannon Dan Morgan explodes on the scene and steals Wienke's pass from the blue Miami sky and rumbles twenty yards out of enemy territory as the clock winds down to zero. The Canes head to the locker room, momentum in tact –17-point lead protected. The Noles – visibly dejected – stagger off the field experiencing a first half shutout for the first time since 1988.

Game breaking plays are a dime a dozen for the Hurricanes defense – a tight knit unit that takes pride in shutting down opponents and getting the ball back Miami's offensive hands. Dan Morgan has taken his leadership and playmaking ability to the NFL but that is of little concern to the 2001 Hurricanes. Penn State as Linebacker U? Maybe when Nixon was in office. The Canes swiped this moniker in the 80's when heavy hitters like George Mira Jr. and Bernard Clark exploded onto the scene. In the nineties it was downright frightening who suited up in the middle.

Imagine it's 1991 and you're a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in the Orange Bowl on Miami soil with dreams of ending the highly touted home game win streak. On the other side of the ball you are staring at linebackers Darrin Smith, Jessie Armstead and Micheal Barrow. Hey David Klingler, pride still stinging from that 40-10 shellacking and those six sacks? You went from All World to off the map overnight courtesy of The Bermuda Triangle.

A few years later the Canes boasted Ray Lewis, Nate Webster and most recently Mr. Morgan. "Linebacker U" …of Miami, baby. Get used to it. Like a bad dream, the tradition continues for opposing offenses.

As cliché as it sounds, you don't replace a Dan Morgan… or do you? Jonathan Vilma are you ready for the challenge? Many think he is. A Freshman All American in 2000, Vilma has a nose for the ball and is considered faster and more of a natural than predecessor Morgan. While he lacks #44's size and might never replace his heart, Vilma's instincts will kick in and make for a smooth transition.

Heavy hitter Chris Campbell steps in at strong side linebacker while former Mr. "High School Everything" D.J. Williams takes over the weak side after a year at fullback. This trio has the potential to be downright nasty. Smith, Armstead and Barrow would be proud.

In looking at Penn State's offense one must truly pity this bunch. Four returning starters? A quarterback (Matt Seneca) who is yet to start a single game? A senior receiver (Eddie Drummond) who needed to step up and lead the youngsters instead misses spring ball due to academic problems?

This is not the Penn State of old.

Forget about "reloading" departed talent – the Lions are losing recruits to Pittsburgh and the lowly Rutgers program. There are no high hopes this season – just hopes of building upon 5-7. No Lavar Arrington picking off passes and bullying punters and kickers. There will be no miracle Thompson to Fields 79-yard bombs soaring through the night sky of Happy Valley this Saturday. This will be a desperate, inexperienced Penn State crew running for its life when Miami's defense is on the field. It will be hell on earth in the form of swarming white jerseys and green pants for JoePa's boys.

If Matt Seneca doesn't spend half the day on his back he will attempt to get the ball in the hands of his young receivers – which is tough when you have a Hurricanes' secondary draped on you like white on rice.

Returning for their senior seasons are strong safety Ed Reed and cornerback Mike Rumph. While the odds makers and many outside Coral Gables and Happy Valley might not put too much weight into Saturday's contest, Reed and Rumph will be playing like it is a National Championship game.

Last time PSU fans saw #20 and #8, they were two dejected sophomores who gave up the winning touchdown on that rainy September afternoon in 1999. While their teammates never laid the blame on them, they are yet to forgive themselves for the Chafie Fields touchdown. Rumph says that setback made him the man he is today and neither he nor Reed will watch the tape. Dejected sophomores in 1999 to team leaders and Thorpe Award candidates with a score to settle in 2001. One has to feel for that Lions' offense. Not me of course, but one… somewhere.

With virtually no chance of establishing a passing attack, the Nittany Lions will attempt to run the ball. Let us stress the word "attempt" here. This is virtually the same squad that had 22 rushing attempts for 6 yards against Southern Cal in the Kickoff Classic last season and 27 rushes for 30 yards against Toledo. The Canes gave up 69 yards on 27 attempts against Florida State. Someone please do the math here. The solution equals a long, uneventful Saturday for Penn State backs.

The not-so-lean, mean, Green machines are Miami's bookends this season – Cornelius and Jamaal. William Joseph and Matt Walters will assume their respective roles stuffing the middle. Joseph has started every game the past two seasons while Williams earned the challenge of replacing the departed Damione Lewis.

Opponents can also expect a more aggressive Miami defensive line in 2001. Randy Shannon, new defensive coordinator and former linebacker under both Johnson and Erickson, is getting rave reviews for the hard-hitting style he brings to the table as a coach. On the practice field both Greens have looked solid after another year of seasoning under their belts.

Did I mention one must feel for Penn State's offense this weekend?

Saturday will be the longest and most disheartening sixty football minutes Penn State's little-o will experience all year. Big Ten fans can bark all day long about their rigorous conference schedule and their precious style of hard-nosed football. The run their mouths because they don't know any better. The 1999 game aside – being the tail end of the rebuilding years – Miami has always taken down or outplaying highly ranked Penn State teams. One can only imagine what a revived Canes team will do to an unranked Paterno led bunch coming off of a losing season.

Team speed – it is the key to football in the Sunshine State. We are a different breed in Florida and too many opponents must learn that the hard way. These young Nittany Lions who are yet to ever face a loaded Miami team at full strength are in for the surprise of their lives. They can feed off of their false confidence for the next few days but come 8:00 pm on September 1st they will learn an extremely hard lesson – speed kills.

Born and raised in Miami, Chris Bello now lives in San Diego, CA and works as a freelance writer. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at cbello@san.rr.com

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